/ Technology

Farewell to instruction manuals

instruction manual

Ever been utterly bemused by an instruction manual? Or bought a product that didn’t come with one at all? These days it seems we’re just expected to know how products work, but not all of us were born tech savvy…

As tech products and services become more and more sophisticated and complex, proper instructions and guidance written in plain English can help us get the best out of them.

That’s why it seems strange that manufactures don’t always do this. We’ve found from our testing, and from many of you, that some manuals just aren’t written in jargon-free, easy-to-understand plain English. The simple question is, why not?

Tested to instruction

Instruction manuals can seem rather old fashioned and many people just won’t have a need to even take them out of the box. But we know that there are still those of us that rely on them when they get stuck with their products.

We assess instruction manuals on some products as part of our testing to see how easy they are to set up and use. And we unearth some bizarre examples. For example, this clear-as-mud snippet is from an indoor TV aerial manual:

‘When interconnecting equipment and to get the best carrier to noise then place the digital terrestrial television set top box as the first item in the signal path followed by any video or satellite receiver.’

Umm OK…

Time to be clear

Sometimes, you may even find there’s no manual at all and instead you’re left to your own, ahem, devices. You may think that in this case people should just work it out for themselves, but that supposes they have a good enough technical ability to do this. Plus, it’s often the case that on-screen menus just aren’t clear enough, being littered with confusing instructions and language.

And then things can get even more complicated with permission warnings – the little boxes that pop up with apps or websites asking our permission to do this or that. If these important warnings are worded in a way that you don’t understand, how can you know what you’re actually agreeing to?

We’re currently investigating the instructions and guidance (or lack of) we get with our technology products and services. So, do you have any examples of confusing language used in tech product literature? What do you feel about the hard-copy manuals being replaced with on-screen instructions?

Do you still want hard-copy manuals?

Yes - I can't live without them (60%, 994 Votes)

Maybe - depends on if the manual is easy to find online (32%, 538 Votes)

No - think of the trees! (8%, 125 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,657

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I can usually cope fairly well without instruction manuals but they can be useful to discover features that might not otherwise be obvious.

There is no excuse for providing poorly written instructions and the fact that many electronic products come with some sort of display screen makes them easier to use without resorting to a manual.

When the UK started to import a lot of goods from overseas in the 70s there were some instructions were full of amusing statements. A friend had a Russian SLR camera with a warning to ‘keep your fingers off the flipping mirror’. I have seen ‘Your statutory rights are not effected’ more than once.


Depends on the manual/product . I have a recent camera manual that is around 80 pages and fits in the camera bag. And pretty much all of the manual is actually useful as you try to remember how to use certain settings that you last used a year ago.

Particularly to the point if you are currently in Turkey and your chances of looking up a manual on-line [ if you can get a signal] are near to nil.

So I think I would like to vote for “Depends ..”

Don Bellham says:
14 March 2015

My expensive, complicated bridge camera ought to have had a printed manual & not a CD (but not in a dozen languages). A manual is user-friendly. I tend to play around with controls rather than hunt for the provided disc information on my PC. Sometimes I print off A4 pages to save returning – what’s the environment-saving then?


Any important manual that I need, I usually download the PDF version to my Tablet and use a Tablet’s pdf app or the Kindle app to read and navigate it.

Currently I have the manuals/handbooks for my new car, smart TV, washing machine, bridge camera, mobile phone and the Tablet’s own manual sitting on my Tablet.

The pdf versions are usually easier to navigate, have a search function, don’t get lost, don’t wear out and don’t use trees. Win. Win. Win. Win.


Cunning. I use an e-reader for the same idea where the manual contains a serious amount of information and I might like to browse it – and gives me a back-up. [Normally when daughter borrows said item and manual and then rings asking for clarification]

As for the camera manual I know full well I can use a paper product much more swiftly and not worry about glare, losing power or mechanical failure.

I have thought with the cheapness of online storage that a consumer body could store such manuals AND allow for comments from readers that expand or refute what the manual says. Also means any up-dated manual could be brought to the attention of earlier buyers.


Yesterday, someone posted on one of the Convos that they had lost their washing machine manual. I thought I would be helpful and find it online and post a link, but I could not find it. Some manufacturers are better than others in providing information on their websites, and it’s anyone’s guess how long it will be there for.

On the other hand I have had no difficulty in finding a detailed manual for a 24V alternator that is probably 40 years old.

If having an electronic manual is important it is probably best to check it is available, download it and then buy the camera etc.

Neville Dalton says:
14 March 2015

Jolly good – if you’ve got a tablet. Personally I haven’t got one (had one as a freebie with a printer but couldn’t work out how to use it!) and I wouldn’t want to lug it about on wildlife trips. Gimme the manual manual – in ONLY my language please. I have a smart-phone but can’t use and/or don’t want most of the ‘features’ – e.g. how do I get it to translate (say) spoken English into Spanish – seen it done once but can’t remember how.

Chris says:
15 March 2015

I need a manual to understand ‘Convos’ so it really depends on how familiar the user is with what’s in front of him/her.